The Capital’s national stadium is synonymous with hockey. The life-size statue of hockey legend Dhyan Chand at the entrance reminds the sports fraternity of the country’s legacy in the Olympics.
The stadium renovated for the 2010 World Cup and Commonwealth Games was supposed to give fillip to the game at least in the region, but isn’t attracting youngsters these days.
A hockey coach says at least five times in the last six weeks players couldn’t train because the turf could not be watered due to a technical problem. “The stadium might be centrally located, but those with passion for hockey come from afar. If they can’t play, why would they continue to come?” the coach asked.
The breakdown of the sprinkler system has been a perennial problem, but stadium administrator, CM Sathyaraj, says it’s a temporary issue and would be sorted out. “The stadium is managed by the CPWD. The technical person handling the water system has quit his job. The new person would be appointed soon.”
After the CWG, the stadium was thrown open to the public and the sports ministry initiated the ‘come and play’ scheme, to encourage participation as well as utilise the facilities. A nominal monthly fee of Rs.45 was fixed for regulars. Over 300 players were registered, but on a given day only around 25 to 30 players across age groups, including girls, use the facility. Recently, the fee was revised to Rs.125 for those under 25 years and Rs.200 for those older.
However, the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) decision to depute four hockey experts at the stadium belies logic as there are few regular trainees. One of the senior players, who is a regular, says during the summer holidays the number of trainees goes up to 50 or 60, but is down to 25 or 30 once the schools and colleges reopen.
After the 2010 CWG, the national stadium was regularly hosting international matches. However, a lack of parking space proved a big hurdle.
The underground parking lot in the stadium has space for over 700 vehicles, but wasn’t thrown open for security reasons. That perhaps discouraged fans keen to watch the national team in action as they often had to walk some distance to enter the venue.
A poor show during international matches was apparently one of the reasons Hockey India (HI) started holding events outside Delhi.
In 2014, the elite men’s Champions Trophy was allotted to Bhubaneswar. Last season, the Hockey World League men’s final was held at Raipur, Chhattisgarh.
International matches returning to Delhi in the near future looks doubtful as the federation has decided to hold the upcoming junior men’s World Cup in Lucknow.
The national stadium is the home ground of Hockey India League side, Delhi Wave Riders. Of the three pitches here, two are of international standard. The third ground is mainly used by beginners. The main ground is also used by the national teams during transit or when the camp is held in the Capital. The domestic league held in January/February too has failed to generate interest.
The Sports Authority of India (SAI), it is learnt, has given the main administrative block on lease to the home ministry. The underground parking, which wasn’t used even for the 2010 CWG, would now be utilised, says a SAI official. “The process of cleaning is on. Government officials would use the parking,” the official said. However, the official didn’t give details on how revenue would be generated. The annual expenditure of the stadium is over Rs.5 crore.
Recently, SAI, in coordination with the federation, has set up a national hockey academy in the stadium. Forty trainees would be based at the academy.
One of the pitches has been allotted to the Delhi Hockey Association, which will deposit a fee of Rs. 50,000 per month for using the facilities every morning and evening. All trainees under the ‘come and play’ scheme are now registered with the state unit. “The initiative might attract youngsters to take up hockey in the near future,” said a national level coach.
There are also facilities for cricket, tennis and swimming training.